When it comes to washing the dishes, I’m a bit of a fiend. I can say with genuine sincerity that I actually feel a swell of happiness when I perfectly clean a dish—I feel deeply satisfied by the way it gleams, by the smooth reflective surface after it’s rinsed and dried.
I wish my same enthusiasm for cleaning dishes extended to cleaning up other areas of the house (namely the bathroom and living room, or especially my loads of excess papers everywhere—sorry Evan), but at least I find joy in cleaning something.
My eccentric love for cleaning a sink full of dishes caused me to develop a strong partiality to the kind of dish soap that I use. For several years now, I’ve used Dawn. I started using it religiously after I bought it to clean an oil stain from a favorite dress. Putting a drop of Dawn in a bowl of water absolutely did the trick to erase the oil stain and save me from a trip to the drycleaners.
Beyond its power to clean dishes and clothes, Dawn has also legitimately been used to help clean up after oil spills (NPR can back me up here: Why Dawn Is The Bird Cleanser Of Choice For Oil Spills), and there’s a really cute and sympathetic picture of a baby seal on its label.
Joking aside, I think there’s actually a lot to love about Dawn. Like most products on the drug store shelf, though, it only comes in a plastic container.
Back in April, when I started this adventure, I actually felt panic considering what I would do when my then-still-half-full Dawn container finally ran out. As I neared the end of the bottle, I rationed each drop, carefully squeezing just two or three beads onto a sponge to clean a sink full of dishes. But after three weeks of this rationing, as the blue soap decreased further and further, I couldn’t pretend that there was anything actually left. I unscrewed the lid and dug my finger inside to pull out the remaining sudsy film, and then I admitted it was empty. It was time to buy dish soap.
I looked first for Dawn made in a powdered form, thinking that might be in a cardboard container. I was easily able to switch to boxed and powdered dishwashing detergent that’s sans plastic—I have been using the pictured Cascade brand with no complaints—so I hoped there might be a similar alternative for Dawn. But I struck out: Dawn only comes in the liquid form in a plastic container.
Next, I went to the Internet. Google searches led me to dish soaps such as Mrs. Meyer’s, which are environmentally conscious and come in plastic that is 25% post-consumer recycled, but I couldn’t find any dish soap in glass or metal containers. I also kept coming up with references to Dr. Bronner’s castile soap. Dr. Bronner’s sells various kinds of bar castile soap, from eucalyptus to almond-scented varieties, but the company recommends using these for cleaning the hair or body. None of the bars soaps mention cleaning dishes or home surfaces, and I want to make sure the soap I use actually disinfects.
A friend recommended that I check out some other earth-friendly brands, such as the Honest Company. They are a company with a thoughtful commitment to all things environmental, and I love their mission statement, which includes mention of their packaging. They say that “One day (in the not-so-distant future) we strive to be 100% plant-based and sustainably-sourced, inside and out.”
This statement is hopeful and self-aware, but the company doesn’t discuss the plastic containers they currently use. And even this company, selling many great, good-for-the-earth products, doesn’t have any plastic-free dish soaps.
I continued scouring high and low to unearth alternatives, and I realized that maybe what I needed to do was make my own dish soap. I found a blog called Mommypotamus (that’s a hard name to forget) with do-it-yourself dish-soap-cooking instructions, and this seemed promising at first. But when I searched for the ingredients, I discovered that a few of them, such as the liquid castile soap and glycerin, come in plastic containers. Thus, I would have to buy plastic to avoid plastic.
My last-ditch effort was to go to Merz Apothecary store on Lincoln. I crossed my fingers that they might have what I was looking for. I entered the store and was immediately welcomed by a friendly staff person. She showed me to the section of dish soaps, and she sighed when I told her my dilemma. “I wish we sold what you’re looking for,” she told me. “I would buy it, too.” For a moment, we stared at the shelves. I willed a plastic-free dish soap to appear that could end my searching. “I’m sorry,” she told me, and shook her head.
On my walk back to my apartment, I bought a bottle of the “ology” brand dish soap from Walgreens succumbing to the need to just get something. Like most of the dish soaps at Merz, this is sold in a recyclable plastic container—the plastic with the number two symbol inside of the triangle—and I like to believe that it is better for the planet because it’s purportedly made with natural ingredients.
There’s certainly more I could try and more searching I need to do. I found another recipe online from Kirk’s Natural for making dish soap, and the ingredients all appear to come in non-plastic packaging. I should try making this. But even though I care deeply for the environment, I still enjoy convenience. I think most people feel the same. I selfishly don’t feel like cooking up my own dish soap whenever I’m in need. I wish I could just buy some ready-made. Yet even I wonder what that alternative dish soap could be easily and cheaply packaged in, if not plastic.
After my epic failure, I’m reaching out to you all. Any ideas on what I should try? Have you ever made your own dish soap with great results? I’d love to know some recipes, especially easy ones!